Today we continue our series on the Book of Judges by turning to Judges 14 Samson—Doing it His Way. Samson’s birth story is one of those in the Old Testament where God gives a barren woman a child who will be used by God. The angel tells Samson’s parents to raise him as a Nazirite, dedicated to God for His purposes. However, we learn in the historian’s first story of Samson that Samson is going to live life his way, quickly ignoring the call to be a Nazirite, being drawn to the Philistines and desiring to be more like them. How often do we really think about who God has called us to be and how to live as His people in our day-to-day decisions?
Samson-Doing it His Way
Samson’s a person of contrasts and it’s sometimes hard to believe that God uses him to deliver Israel, or would use someone like Samson who seems to deliberately turn his back on who he supposed to be; a Nazirite, dedicated completely to the Lord, as we learn in the previous chapter.
Samson’s a young man with all the desires of a young man. He goes to Timnah, a Philistine city where a young Philistine girl catches his eye. Samson goes back to his parents and tells them, “I’ve seen a Philistine girl in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.” His mother and father try to talk Samson out of this because God had forbidden the Israelites to marry the people around them who worshipped other gods. God knows that when we marry someone who doesn’t believe, it’s easier for the follower God to drift away from God. But Samson’s strong in his stubbornness.
The author of Judges writes, “His parents did not know that this was from the Lord, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel”. God’s provoking a confrontation with the Philistines through Samson’s desire; beginning the work of delivering his people. It’s not unusual for God to accomplish his plans using our rebellious nature. God knows us better than we often know ourselves, so God simply uses Samson’s natural tendencies to accomplish his will. God uses Samson’s wrong desire to bring about the next step in his plan in fulfilling his promise to Samson’s parents. Even though God uses Samson’s wrong desires, God wishes to accomplish his plans through our obedience. There is less pain and hurt in God’s way.
Samson and his parents make their way to Timnah to do some wife arranging. On the way to negotiate for his bride, a young lion jumps out of a thicket and attacks Samson. We get a glimpse of Samson’s strength as he grabs the lion and tears it apart with his bare hands. Even the mighty King David later uses his staff to kill a lion; Samson does it with his bare hands. But it’s because the Spirit of the Lord comes on Samson. This is all about God working, not about what Samson can accomplish; even his extraordinary strength is a gift, a blessing from God. Samson and his parents continue on to Timnah where they arrange for the young woman to marry Samson.
When Samson goes back to marry his wife, they walk by the place where Samson killed the lion. Samson slips away to check out what happened to the body of the lion. When he comes to the place he left the carcass, Samson finds a swarm of bees has made the body of the dead lion home and there’s even honey inside the lion’s carcass. In Israel, especially the really dry areas, the heat and dry air dry out a body extremely quickly without decomposing, so that they become like mummies. This must have happened since bees normally avoid dead bodies.
But Samson now acts without thinking. Samson scoops up a handful of honey from the lion’s body and eats it, giving some to his parents too. The problem is that according to the rules God gave to the Nazirites, touching a dead body made them unclean. This is a violation of the vow his mother had made for him. A Nazirite also could not cut his hair or drink from the fruit of the vine to show he was in training, while the call to not touch something dead was about being set apart for God. For Samson, God is there for his use, not followed and obeyed, an attitude all too common still today.
Samson has been dedicated to God, but his life isn’t reflecting this. Samson acts and lives just like everyone else. This is like Israel. God chose them to be a blessing to the nations, to be set apart and different, with different values and a different way of living. Samson has chosen to be like everyone else. Samson is a person like you and I. He wrestles with relationships and his walk with God just as we do.
We need to ask ourselves if we’re much different from Samson. We may not have his strength, or experience the opportunities and adventures Samson does, yet our daily lives are filled with hundreds of practical choices that show others where our hearts are, whose values we hold to. How many opportunities to allow God to use us to bless others do we let pass by? How often do we allow our decisions to be shaped by what we want instead of what God says is best for us? How different are we really from Samson, from the people of Israel that Samson represents?
Samson and his parents reach Timnah and the marriage celebrations begin. Samson holds a feast there and is given thirty companions, showing that this is a wealthy Philistine family he’s marrying into. Samson plays a game with the companions, telling them a riddle, basing it on the lion he had killed and the honey he later found in it. This as a normal part of the entertainment at a feast. Samson raises the stakes as he adds a challenge, a new set of clothing for each of them if they win; otherwise, they each need to buy him a set of clothing. The young men are confident that they can figure out any riddle a Jew can think up. But they get a surprise and have no idea what the answer could be, so they pressure Samson’s wife with threats to her and her family if she doesn’t co-operate, so she pleads with Samson for the answer. Finally, Samson tells his wife the answer and she gives it to her people. With smirks on their faces, the companions approach Samson and give him the answer.
Samson’s furious and he stalks off. Samson honours the bet by going to the city of Ashkelon and kills thirty men for their clothes and gives the clothes to the men who had explained his riddle. Samson gets his super-human strength from the Spirit of the Lord who comes on him in power. Samson goes home without his wife and the father offers Samson’s wife to one of the companions at the wedding. Samson’s betrayed by both his wife and his father-in-law. The Philistines now realise Samson’s a threat, a powerful man capable of great destruction. Samson’s filled with anger, but it’s directed towards the Philistines and not his wife.
Twice already, the author has written, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him...’ and both times Samson’s given great physical strength. The Lord’s beginning to deliver Israel from the Philistines through Samson. We hear an echo to the “Spirit of the Lord” coming down in the baptism accounts of Jesus. The Spirit of God comes on Jesus, giving him the strength to resist Satan and to stay true to his Father’s will and plan after being tested in the wilderness. Jesus stays true to his calling to save his people from sin through training himself in the wilderness.
Being a Christian doesn’t mean we won’t struggle. It isn’t easy for Samson living under the Philistines. It isn’t easy for Jesus being tempted by Satan. Jesus saves us from our sins and is with us in whatever’s going on and gives us the strength to follow his way. We’re responsibility for who we’re becoming and our relationships with Jesus and each other. Spiritual training is key to remembering who we are as followers of Jesus. Looking at Jesus, we see that quiet times talking to God the Father are important. We’re part of a community of faith, so learning together, sharing with each other what the Spirit is doing in our lives, helps us all to recognize how the Spirit is working in us and our community. Looking for ways to serve and be generous reminds us that Jesus came to serve rather than be served and how generous God is to us. Creating beauty gives us a glimpse of our creator God who created us in his image. Even how we work and play is shaped by the Spirit’s leading and work in us.
Jesus delivers us from slavery to sin, but we still need to train like the Nazirites to be God’s people since we need to do our part too. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:25, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever,” and Peter writes, “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.”
If we become complacent, we’re in danger of being more like Samson. The Spirit of the Lord is in us; this is the promise of Pentecost. We’re dedicated to God, claimed by Jesus, and this is the source of our strength. Listen to the Spirit who lives in your heart; training and trusting that Jesus gives us the strength we need to be true to him and be kingdom builders here.